The Great Book Race of 2018


Editor’s note: This e-mail exchange took place between 3/31 and 4/5. Since then Andrew has finished one more book and Maggie has finished two, because she’s a tryhard.

Andrew Nichols: Alright Magz. I got beef with you. My New Year’s resolution this year was to read a book a month. By no means a lofty goal, but one that I felt I could accomplish and feel good about.

Then I log onto instagram on Jan 6th and see this crap:


(Go follow @magzreadz on instagram if you don’t already).

So now I gotta double my book goal, and I have an instagram account telling me how far behind I am. I’ve done four books thus far and just started number five. Meanwhile you just finished book 5, right?

@Magzreadz (Maggie Cavanaugh): Yeah, that’s right, and you know me, I can get competitive too, so knowing I’ve got you not too far behind me is a great motivator. A book a month is a great goal, but isn’t this more fun?!

I’m reading books of all genres, whatever I’m feeling like picking up next. Do you have a certain genre you’re sticking with, or are you in the same boat? And what have you read so far?

Andrew: Same for me. Personally I tend toward nonfiction but the book I’m reading right now if my first fiction book of the year.

Thus far I’ve read Chain of Title by David Dayen, American Cinema: Directors and Directions by Andrew Sarris, Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone, and The Horror Genre:From Beelzebub to Blair Witch by Paul Wells.

What about you? I know you already gave out ratings on your instagram, so how about we do some superlatives?

I’m thinking BEST BOOK, MOST ADDICTING, WORST BOOK, and finally the ones we recommend vs. those we don’t?

Maggie: So far I’ve read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Into the Wild by Jon Kraukauer, Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen, Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

That plan sounds good! I’ll make up some superlatives for the books we don’t cover with those categories.

Andrew: Good looks. Without further adieu…


Maggie: So far this award goes to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is real and raw in her tellings, and she encounters a fair amount of entertaining situations. I struggled to put it down, when I needed to.

Andrew: I haven’t read it yet but I’m definitely gonna keep it in mind now. I just remember walking out of the movie adaptation thinking that the homie Reese Witherspoon was dope.

For me this goes to Chain of Title by David Dayen. This is the book that’s hardest to explain, hardest to read, but is also one of the most vital books in a while. It’s about how banks used shady, often illegal practices to skirt around regulations during the height of the subprime mortgage bubble. Essentially, banks were selling off people’s mortgages at such a fast rate that they ignored many of the centuries-old property laws that govern home ownership. When the bubble burst, millions were foreclosed on, oftentimes by banks that were not the initial owner of their mortgage (so like, if you got a loan from Citi, and they sold it, then Chase tried foreclosing on you even though you’ve never interacted with them). The book tells this story via three people who noticed the skirting of laws, fought their foreclosures in court, and ended up becoming activists during the financial crisis. There’s hella jargon, it can be confusing, but I’ve also never encountered more “Wait, hang on , they did WHAT?!”, or “holy shit that’s bad” moments in a book before.


Maggie: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. I hate giving this book this particular  superlative, because I LIKE Carl Hiaasen, but so far, this book is at the bottom of my list. I just couldn’t get into it, the story took forever to develop, actually, I never felt like it REALLY did.

Andrew: Adolescent Andrew loved Hoot so hearing that Hiaasen wrote a shitter of a book is disappointing.

Maggie: Don’t be too upset, one of my favorite books is by him (Skinny Dip). It’s hilarious and captivating, if you ever feel the desire to read a fiction book, I would definitely recommend it.

Andrew: I at least somewhat enjoyed all of the books I read so this is a tad unfair. But alas, this has to go to The Horror Genre by Paul Wells. It’s interesting, and goes in all sorts of directions you wouldn’t get from a mainstream book. But Wells is so clearly writing for grad students and other academics that it can be frustrating. He falls into the trap of thinking that he needs to use the thesaurus on every word. This book reminded me of the most painful readings from my film courses in college. It’s brief (just over 100 pages) and opens your mind up (Marxist and Darwinist tendencies of Horror, anyone?) but still a slog.

Maggie: Sounds like an enticing one; it’s always a disappointment when the topic of a book is interesting, but the language feels so broken up and unnatural when the author tries too hard.


MaggieInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I read this book in a day, basically refused to put it down, it was beyond fascinating to me, and left me inspired to rough it out in the Alaskan wilderness, because anyone can do it according to Chris McCandless, it’s why we were put on this earth. Adventure awaits… until you get hungry… and die. I finished this book and started Wild right away, thinking I’d encounter another adventure that inspired me so much that I’d convince myself to ACTUALLY go on a hike (mind you, I was on crutches while reading both books… perhaps I had a small case of cabin fever…) but Strayed told the whole, more true, truth about ditching civilization and living in the wilderness, bringing me back down to earth.

Andrew: Krakauer is interesting to me—I read Into Thin Air way back because a ton of people recommended it. It was solid, definitely a slow starter that picked up momentum. Krakauer got his start as a writer for the magazine Outside and I never felt like he ever fully transitioned into being comfortable writing books. He can hook you in, sure, but it feels very sectioned, divided—almost like it’s one of those Dickens books where chapters were released as they’re written. I think it’s fitting that Wild felt more real; it was written from the perspective of a person finding themselves rather than a journalist preaching to the outdoorsy choir.

Maggie: I never really thought of Into the Wild as sectioned when I read it, but you bring up a good point. Thinking back, the chapters were all very distinct, as if each one was it’s own short story, each one being related to the other, but separated nonetheless.

Andrew: For me this superlative goes to Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone. Malone is one of my favorite film critics/writers/content-creators going right now, and she did an awesome job with this book. Basically it details the history of women in Hollywood filmmaking, via a series of biographical essays on women in periods ranging from the late 1800s to the present (people like Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, etc.). Malone writes in the intro that you can hop around to whatever you find most interesting, and that’s exactly how I read it. It’s awesome to be able to jump to whatever catches your eye, and I ended up reading all of it in one jumbled 4-hour session. Malone’s at her best when she can expand on a known figure (Marylin Monroe, Gina Davis) and make larger observations on their work and reception. But even when she’s just doing an information dump it’s really entertaining and informative. I wish it wasn’t just Hollywood-centric, because I’d love to be able to read about the influential feminist European directors from Malone’s perspective (and also because Chantal Akerman and Věra Chytilová are two personal favorites of mine).

Maggie: Sounds amazing! I’m all for reading about strong women in history. Women in Hollywood tend to captivate the public eye more than any other group of ladies, so they set the scene for the times, kind of like the #metoo movement going on now. I don’t know if any social issues were brought up in that book, but I’m sure it was interesting to see how times changed along the timeline of the book. I’d love to read it!

As for my other two superlatives, they are:


Maggie: Which goes to Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham. I grew up rushing home from school to watch Gilmore Girls, so I read this out of not only interest, but also for the nostalgia factor, the 13 year old inside me was ecstatic.

And the other is…


Maggie: Which goes to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I almost quit reading this book multiple times because Gilbert was so irritating, I found her beliefs ignorant, and her stubbornness in some situations was outrageous.

Andrew: I have no clue how Eat, Pray, Love became such a hit. Everyone I know who has read it has absolutely hated it. It’s pretty easy to find happiness when you’re given a $200K publisher’s advance to fuck about all over the world.

At any rate, my superlative is:


Andrew: Which goes to American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. I’m a sucker for rankings. I’m a sucker for auteurist film criticism. I’m a sucker for authoritative works that clearly come from a wide knowledge base. Sarris’s style is not for everyone. Hell it’s probably not for most people. But I absolutely love it. This book inspires the closest thing to bar arguments that film scholar have, and I adore it. It helps that I agree with Sarris on most things (though Nicholas Ray and Douglas Sirk are underrated, while Robert Flaherty is criminally overrated) but I think if you disagree with him it can still be a fun hate read. Lots of jokes and stray observations keep it lighter than a purely academic piece.

Maggie: Sounds like it was written for you to read. Humor in more academic texts is so important, otherwise its so easy to lose your reader, unless theyre being forced to read it for class, but even so, a successful author will not make their reader roll their eyes at the thought of their name.

Andrew: Well thanks for doing this Magz! We’ll check back in at the next milestone (ten), whichever one of us reaches it first. And you better watch your back, I’m comin’ for the lead.


  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham


  • Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone
  • Chain of Title by David Dayen
  • American Cinema by Andrew Sarris


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